In the 1st episode of the new season of “Breakfast with Champions,” KL Rahul opened up about how he felt upon getting dropped in the aftermath of a “decent” campaign in the 2019 World Cup.
After scoring 361 runs in 9 innings that included 2 50s and 1 100 at an average of 45.1, KL did not expect to get benched after the big tournament. Speaking about India’s tour of West Indies, the series that immediately followed the World Cup, KL expressed that his instinctive reaction to getting dropped was that “it made no sense.”
He mentioned that he sought solace in speaking with his then-IPL teammate, Chris Gayle, on this topic. While in the Caribbean, he met with Gayle, who comforted and encouraged him by saying that ultimately, whether he plays or not is in his hands.
“If a 70 is not enough, score 150. If a 150 is not enough, score 200. If a 600-run IPL season is not enough, score 800,” the Universe Boss told him, adding that it is on him to put himself in a position from where no team can dare to drop him.
KL remarked that Gayle believed that he should have converted his starts at the World Cup into bigger, more impactful scores. And this belief was rooted in the fact that KL’s campaign was reasonable in terms of runs scored, but he only converted 1 of his 5 starts into a 100, and was striking at 77.5 throughout the tournament.
While there is a kernel of truth to it, it is important to consider KL’s journey in the lead up to the World Cup. In conversation with Gaurav Kapur, he talks about how he was dropped from the test team the previous year, the discussion the management had with him on his return is that he would be considered for a spot in the middle-order owing to his strong abilities against spin. However, an incident in the nets with Mayank Agarwal, who was supposed to be the regular test opener, prompted KL back to open.
Even in the white-ball setup, he was not given a consistent run at any one position in the batting order. In the 2 years prior to the World Cup, he only played 7 ODIs, in which, he opened in only one, played two games at no. 3, three at no. 4, and one at no. 5. Right before the World Cup as well, he was viewed as a back-up to Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma for the opener’s slot. But a successful run in the warmup matches earned him a spot in the middle-order in India’s first 3 games, at the end of which he was promoted back to the opener’s role because Dhawan got ruled out.
He was never assigned a clear position or role in the team in this period. And given his trajectory during this time, his numbers are not entirely reflective of his abilities as a batter.
However, when he was brought back to the ODI XI later in 2019, he returned with a renewed mindset. He was still not offered one consistent position. Among his 15 ODI innings between the culmination of the World Cup and the end of Ravi Shastri’s tenure as coach, four came as an opener, one a piece at 3 and 4, and 9 at 5. But this time, he scored 805 runs at an average of 67.1 and strike rate of 100.6, with 5 50s and 3 100s.
There may be no limit to the explanations behind why he was dealt with this way and how his mindset changed in this period. But one thing is clear– being the versatile batter he is, the 29-year-old has adapted well to every role thrown upon him, and certainly, has put himself in a position where no team can dare to drop him.